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The Ballad of Michael Dwyer (1856)

Poets Corner.

In Dr. Madden's Life of Robert Emmet will be found a sketch of the Life of Michael Dwyer. He took part in the
Rebellion of '98 and after the failure of that attempt, he and a few faithful companions held together for
five years among the mountains of Wicklow, despite all the efforts of the Government to capture or dislodge them.

When Robert Emmet was organizing his insurrection he had arrangements made with Dwyer and his men to come into
Dublin on the evening of the intended rising. But the messenger despatched for him on the occasion did not arrive
in proper time, and when Dwyer heard of it, all was over. He then surrendered to the Government on condition of
being allowed to go to America ; but the Government afterwards broke faith with him and sent him to a penal

Many were his adventures and hair-breadth escapes among the Wicklow mountains. That detailed in the following
ballad is founded on fact. A friend of his among the soldiery used generally to give him intimation when
he was in any particular danger at their hands, but his own sagacity and courage were equal to all emergencies.

At length brave Michael Dwyer, you and your trusty men
Are scented o'er the mountains and tracked into the glen ;
Sleep not but watch and listen, keep ready gun and ball
The soldiers know your hiding to-night in wild Emall.

That night they searched the valley, and toward the dawn of day
Discovered where the dreaded and hunted heroes lay.
Around the little cottage they formed in a ring,
And they called out, "Michael Dwyer ! surrender to the King."

Thus answered Michael Dwyer, "Into this house we came
Unasked by these good people ; they cannot be to blame,
Then let these helpless parents and children pass you through,
And when they're placed in safety Ill tell you what we'll do."

"Tis done," said gallant Dwyer, "Now let the work begin,
There are a hundred outside, and only four within,
We've heard your haughty summons, and this is our reply,
We're true United Irishmen, we'll fight until we die."

Then burst the war's red lightning, then poured the leaden rain,
The hills around re-echoed the thunder peals again.
The many soldiers falling, brave Dwyer sees with pride,
But, ah ! one gallant comrade is wounded by his side.

Yet there are three remaining, good battle still to do ;
Their hands are strong and steady, their aim is quick and true--
But hark that furious shouting the savage soldiers
The house is fired around them ! The roof is in a blaze !

And brighter every moment the lurid flame arose,
And louder swelled the laughter and cheering at their foes.
Then spake the brave M'Alister, the weak and wounded man,
"You can escape, my comrades, and this shall be your plan.

Place in my hands a musket, then lie upon the floor
I'll stand before the soldiers and open wide the door,
They'll pour into my bosom the fire of their array,
Then whilst their guns are empty, dash through them and away !"

He stood before his foemen, revealed amidst the flame,
From out their levelled pieces the wished-for volley came.
Up sprang the three survivors for whom the hero died
But Michael Dwyer only, burst through the ranks outside.

He baffled his pursuers who followed like the wind,
He swam the river Slaney and left them far behind,
But many a scarlet soldier he promised soon should fall,
For those his gallant comrades who died in wild Emall.

T. D. S.

Nation, Sept. 22nd.


From the Sydnry Newspaper the Freeman's Journal 2 Feb 1856 p. 4.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory